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Amendment Seeks to Clarify Terre Haute Resale Shop Ordinance

Terre Haute City Truck

Photo: Daniel Robison

A truck bears the city of Terre Haute's motto.

At Thursday’s Terre Haute City Council meeting, a proposal to amend an ordinance requiring some second-hand stores to electronically report their transactions will come to a vote.  Support for the measure is tenuous within the council, but while debate between store owners and police may stem from misinformation.

There may be as many as 40 to 60 second-hand stores in Terre Haute, according to Rich Curtis, who runs The Old Piano Shop — a store which buys and sells vintage pianos.  Curtis is also the head of the 12 Points Greater Northside Association, a group representing resale shop owners in Terre Haute’s 12 Points neighborhood, near the intersection of Maple and Lafayette Avenues with 13th Street.  Curtis is leading a petition drive against an ordinance which, since 1985, has required second-hand stores to keep records of what they buy and sell, in order to keep track of stolen merchandise.  But what has Curtis seeing red is a recent amendment to the ordinance which requires some of those stores to report those same transactions via the internet.

“We’ve already had one business here close before the ordinance even became enforced,” Curtis said.  “She didn’t have any computer skills, she didn’t want to have any computer skills, she didn’t even own a computer.”

Curtis has gathered about 600 petition signatures from shop owners and patrons upset over an ordinance provision Curtis says will shutter more businesses — a requirement to upload pictures and descriptions of merchandise to a website monitored by police called Leads Online, which helps automate the search for stolen goods.  But Terre Haute Assistant Police Chief Shawn Keen, who oversees the department’s detective division, said most businesses are not subject to that requirement.

“First off, as far as the 12 Points businesses go, we can’t find any of those businesses yet that will be required to electronically report,” Keen said.

Keen says the ordinance only requires scrap metal dealers to take photos of merchandise, per state law.  Terre Haute City Councilman John Mullican has offered an amendment to the ordinance which more specifically outlines which kinds of shops are — and are not — covered under the law’s provisions.  Though he voted against the upgrade to the ordinance, Mullican said he’s working to make it clearer and would like to eventually see wording added about threshholds — either measuring a business by the value or the quantity of the merchandise it handles — so that the business of people who buy from resale shops and then sell the merchandise on the internet is defined under the law.

“I don’t think it is the intent of the law to go after that sort of thing,” Mullican said.  “The intent of the law is to try to cut down on the level of property crimes that we’re seeing.”

But Curtis is continuing his push to have the ordinance repealed altogether — a move Mullican said he’d support hearing more debate on before the council.  Curtis said even in a city like Terre Haute, where the rate of property crime exceeds both state and national averages, the ordinance is unnecessary because second-hand shop owners can usually tell whether an item they’re buying is stolen.  But Assistant Police Chief Shawn Keen says the numbers suggest otherwise.

“That’s interesting,” Keen laughed. “However, we’re recovering stolen property from pawn shops, second-hand dealers, jewelry stores, scrap yards.  History contradicts that statements.”

Furthermore, Keen says, his department just isn’t big enough to police stolen goods without a few stores — mostly those dealing in electronics and precious metals — registering their goods online.  The amendment comes up for a vote Thursday night.

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